The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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The Black Sheep Baker's picture
The Black Sheep...

A bakery re-born


Hi and welcome to my first blog and my first tentative steps into the bakery business.


My name is Robert and I have been a chef for the last twelve years.  I am currently lecturing in a north east (UK) male prison but a few months ago I decided it was time to give up the day job (and the night job too!) and setup myself up doing something I really wanted to do.  My vision was to turn a market trailer I owned into a fully self-contained, wood fired, microbakery.  Unfortunately after fitting out the trailer, installing an oven etc I was scuppered by the local planning authorities/town council.  However, fate intervened and whilst out one day trying to source wood for what has now become my mobile event pizza trailer (only minor re-jigging was needed) I happened across an interesting lead.  

I had arrived at a site in Northumberland called Earth Balance.  It was a project setup in 1999 that involved the local authorities buying a derelict farm and setting up a sustainable organic farming initiative.  On site there was a brewery, vegetable producer, poultry farm, cafe and best of all.... a bakery with 30 acres of willow planted to provide fuel for a huge wood fired oven.  Unfortunately the charity setup up to run the enterprise when bust in 2001 (despite being given all the funding in the world) and since then the place has frankly fallen into disrepair.   One of the original food producers took over the tenancy of the land, lake and some of the buildings and has been doggedly trying to keep the project going in some shape or form for the last ten years or so.  

On the day that I arrived I had a chat with a guy from the horticultural training facility on the site and just happened to mention my woes with the microbakery and he just happened to mention the vacant bakery!  I could hear the voice of fate calling so I got in touch with Marty (the aforementioned dogged tenant farmer cum organic fishery owner) and the rest hopefully will be history.  Marty told me that his plans were to reopen a small scale farm shop on the site and we agreed a deal for me to get involved and become the resident baker.


First day nerves.


As I mentioned earlier I am a chef not a baker and though I have knocked out many a half decent loaf over the years I have never baked on a large scale at all.  So when it came time to do a test bake in the oven I have to admit to being distinctly apprehensive about churning out bread in large quantities and of consistant quality.  

In the week prior to the test bake I fed up Viv (my partner's  buckwheat starter)  with wheat flour untill I had a 20 litre frothing, foaming, levitating beast on my hands and gathered together as many plastic bowls and linen squares that I could get my hands on.

The night before I made up three 8 kilo batches of dough: pain de campagne, white sourdough with French T55 flour for baguettes and a wheat and rye mix with malted wheat flakes and rye berries.  I hand mixed the lot with 20% (approx) leaven in each, put the boxes in the boot of my car since the forecasted overnight temp was 2 degrees c and went to bed trepadatiously.  In the morning lo and behold (and thank God!) the dough had risen so I gave each box a turn and set off with my fingers crossed.

The bakery itself is somewhat of a chaotic jumble of random equipment, currently has no electric and is lacking in workbench space/shelving so working conditions were not ideal.  Anyway I made the best of things and the (poor quality) pictures below are what came out of the session.  

The results were generally encouraging though I have highlighted several areas for development- not least my slashing technique.  The oven performed pretty well but this was the first firing for ages (years maybe) and the fire was only started 12 hours previously so it didn't hold it's heat for as long as I hoped.  I had to make a top up fire half way through the bake.


If anyone is interested I will share recipes in a later post but I will end this entry now as I don't want to bang on and on and bore people.  

Thanks for reading (assuming anyone does)!



Pop N Fresh's picture

Chesapeake Wood Oven Enthusiasts

March 22, 2012 - 12:34pm -- Pop N Fresh

Hi All,

Anyone in the Mid Atlantic/Chesapeake Area, we have recently started a new WFO Meetup Group and would like to invite all to participate.  Please go to and have a look.  Hope to meet some TFL folk at one of the up coming meetups.

Great Baking,


frankie g's picture

stretching pizza - Frankie G style

October 13, 2011 - 3:34pm -- frankie g

Hey Everyone,

I received some good response and thought I would post another link to another video.  This is on how to stretch a pizza, Franki G style.

I hope you enjoy.

Frankie G


wally's picture

Alan Scott ovens

March 10, 2010 - 8:08am -- wally

Does anyone have experience baking with an Alan Scott wood fired oven?  Starting this Fall I'll be baking using one and my experience so far is limited to baking in commercial gas ovens.

Any personal experience or book suggestions would be appreciated.  I'm less interested in construction details, and more in the process of using one and what major differences to expect from my experience with gas (I'm baking with a small 4-deck Italian oven presently).



janij's picture

Over the holidays my husband has been trying to increase his carbon footprint by leaps and bounds.  This time of year is quiet for us, we own an A/C and heating company in Texas.  So summers are crazy and winters allow us some time to play.  Our big new toy has been the wood fire oven.  I didn't realize how into cooking in it my husband would become.  I swear he has decimated the chicken population around here in recent weeks and I have made more bread than I could really give away.  I am waiting for my neighbors to not look me in the eye and try to run whenever they see me coming with anything in my arms.  I actually had one guy down the street, who I have never met really, almost turn down a chicken from us.  I guess I would be suspicious of someone handing out chickens I didn't know.  As you can see, I am getting desperate for takers.  Last night as I was trying to get ride of 3 of the 6 loaves we baked yesterday, which is what I got on here to write about in the first place, I gave them to friends of our neighbors who just happened to be leaving the neighbors house when I walked out the door.  Don't know them either.  It was rather funny.  I asked them if they would like a loaf of bread.  One of the guys replies, "Umm, we have a loaf at home thank you."  I told him it was homemade and baked in a wood fire oven and he gave in.  I didn't wait to hear what the second guy had to say, I just shoved the bread in his hands and knocked on the neighbor's door.  I am sure people are somewhere thinking I am very strange indeed.  So I need to find a soup kitchen or something to donate bread to.  That is one of the things I would like to do this year is give more.  So if anyone knows where to find places to donate bread I am open to ideas.

But back to reason for this entry.  Kyle, my husband, decided the other night he wanted to make the bread.  From start to finish all by himself.  So I asked what kind he wanted.  He wanted a light rye hearth bread.  So thanks to Hamelman and DiMuzio, I got out a calculator and made up a formula for a 20% rye, 40% preferment, 65% hydration dough.  In hind sight I should have gone to 68% to get a little bigger holes but I didn't want the dough to be too slack for my begninner husband who would have to mix the dough by hand.  The DLX is too small for 6 loaves.  So Kyle ground the rye, made the poolish, learned the french fold, and stretch and fold.  Where would I have been with out all the excellent videos I have found from this site?  I would ahve been in trouble indeed!  I weighed out all the ingredients and helped with shaping and such, but Kyle did the bulk of the work by himself.  I even tried hard not to hover!  The dough turned out really nice.   I thought he did an excellent job for his first rodeo so to speak.  But there are 2 big tricks with baking in a WFO.  The first is timing.  It is hard to get the loaves and the oven ready at the same time.  Lucky for us it has been about 50 deg here so I put the loaves in the garage to retard/proof while the oven temp gets in range.  The second trick is loading the bread.  I realized I needed a narrow peel.  Since Kyle is an avid fisherman he suggested buying a oar and sanding the varnish off.  It works like a champ!!  I would have never thought of it.  But it is hard to get all the loaves in and spaced correctly.  So below are some pictures.  One is the oar, sanded and oiled.  One is of the Counrty Rye oaves we made yesterday.  And we will see if I find any other ones to put in.

My next experiment is going to be with different grains.  I recently purchased 50lbs of spelt berries, 50lbs or durum berries and 50lbs of hard white spring wheat.  So I would like to come up with a formula and do a test and see the differences in flavor and behavior.  I am thinking of doing about 50% whole grain and 50% AP flour.  I will let you know how that goes.

The Oar- or new Peel

The loaves in the oven...nicely spaced if I may say so myself.  Or atleast better than before! :)

Lastly, the crumb..


janij's picture

This weekend we decided to bake a bunch of bread to give to the neighbors for Christmas.  We decided to warm up the wood fire oven Sat night.  SInce it is cooler we tend to fire it the day before and cook meat or something then bread the next day after the oven has been refired.  So last night we cooked a pork loin.  We have had good luck with birds (chickens or turkeys) but not with beef.  So we thought we would try pork this time.  It did not brown as nicely as I would have liked but it tasted wonderful.  So we baked that last night.  Then this morning I made a triple batch of multigrain whole wheat, a double batch of whole wheat, cinnamon, raisin and oat bread, and a double batch of plain white bread.  I was happy with all the dough.  I think I did a pretty good job.  I forgot to add the honey to the ww multigrain and added it after the autolayse and had a soupy mess.  But with a few fold and a little extra flour we were on our way.

I was grateful that it did not hit 70 today, even though I am sorely missing the sun.  It was about 50 and I could put the white and cinnamon raisin bread outside to proof since I needed to hold it longer that the ww multigrain.  I got concerned when my husband pulled out the coals really early.  But when it was time to load the bread, the temp was low, just undeer 400 and there wasn't much I could do.  I had 15 loaves of read and not enough fridge space.  I had my husband put some coals around the sides of the oven then we loaded the ww multigrain.  I need to work on my loading skills.  Actually I think I need a differnt peel.  But that is for later.  When I checked it 42 minutes later is was almost done and I got good oven spring.  Then we loaded the 8 loaves of white and cinnamon raisin.  Talk about oven spring.  Those loaves grew a good 2 niches in height.  I was so proud.  The oven was at about 350 by then.  So the part of the loaf in the pan did not brown as well as I wanted but they were good. 

After all the bread we put the weeks granola in the oven.  It will be good in the morning.  So I will post a few pictures.  I know that I need to work on some things, but I think we are coming right along in baking in the WFO!

janij's picture

Here in Texas the weather is cooling off and here in Houston we are catching up on some much needed rain.  Go figure the summer I get a wood fire oven there is a burn ban in effect from, oh, June til mid September.  So this summer I spent most of my time drooling and plotting over my new oven.  We did have time before the burn ban to get some experience with firing it, maintaining temperatures and such.  We still have disasters.  Like the burnt sanwich loaves from last weekend.  My hubby, the fire man, said I needed to put the pans in the oven, but the oven was still upwards of 600 deg.  I knew better but also knew arguing with him was pointless and he could learn the burnt way! 

So in essence I wanted to show off some pictures from some of our recent baking both in the WFO and in the regular oven.

Last weekend we fired the oven Saturday and baked a beef roast (forgot a picture but was very good) and the 5 loaves of burn bread.  Sunday we refired the oven in the am and had pizza for lunch.  Said pizzas are pictured below.  The small ones in the back were made by my 5 yr old and 2 yr old.  Our new favorite homemade pizza is Pesto, sliced romas, cooked chicken and parm mixed with mozarella. And our current favorite dough is Reinhart's Roman Dough from American Pie.

Pizza Bottom

As the oven cooled from the pizza I baked 6 new loaves of sandwich bread.  This time I made my hubby wait til 400 deg to load the bread.  After they baked we refired the oven a little and cooked 2 chickens.  When you cook meat in a wood fire oven the meat gets a great smoky, bbq flavor.  In this picture you can see the chickens and 1 1/2 of the sandwich loaves.

The last one I wanted to add was the sourdough ciabatta I made today.  I am so proud of it!  I used the recipe from here

Anyway, I was proud because this was the first straight wild yeast bread I have made that was open and not gummy.  So all in all I was happy.  It went well with out butternut squash soup tonight.  The first pic is of the loaves, the second the crumb.  And there were cooked in my regular oven.

I just wanted to share. :)

Edouard's picture

WFO (head slap) (big head slap)

May 11, 2009 - 9:12pm -- Edouard

So, I was cleaning in the living room yesterday when my interior wood stove caught my eye. Cast iron, good fire brick interior ... but old, and outdated. Not at all EPA certified. It's a cube of cast iron with a door and a flue and rudimentary controls. I keep it in the house just in case civilization takes a powder for longer than a month. Then I get this shiver ...

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